Assessment Proxies

Illustration of a laptop computer.

I don’t think quiet classes are an unusual problem to have, especially in university settings in Japan. There are usually ways and means to encourage students to interact and communicate in their English Communication courses when we’re face to face.

The problem comes when you are using web conferencing software to teach and are expecting/expected to get some kind of student interaction occurring. I’m not talking about cameras being turned off, here; that’s a different issue, and I kind of understand the reason behind it (the same thinking behind why you wouldn’t invite guests round if your home was unseemly to you). I’m talking about an unwillingness to communicate.

It’s not every student, but a sizeable number of them. They claim to be talking in their breakout groups after the fact, but when they notice I have joined the group, silence falls. Even when I tell them, “I can’t grade you on silence!” nothing much occurs rather than a muttering.

What can I do? I can either grade everyone at an F, which is unpleasant for everyone, or I can do something else. I need some assessment proxies, to show that students have been communicating in English with one another, just not in my presence. Here are some of them:

Record your group discussion task

This was unpopular but not terrible. It also gave me solid evidence (as opposed to disputable, unrecorded performance) about how little or how much students spoke in a task.

Co-written task

I don’t like it, to be frank, because there is less spoken interaction than I would like, and lots of writing, which is beyond the remit of the spoken communication lesson. With a quiet class there tends to be less coming to a consensus involved in group decision making and more devolving decisions to the strongest or keenest student in the group.

Other things that I could do are:

Make a video together

But this is essentially the same as ‘record your task’ but with more room for IT faff and unlikely to result in more English output.

Somebody’s going to say Flipgrid

Why would I ask students to install something on their phone when they can upload work to the LMS or the institutional cloud storage?

Record and transcribe discussion

This could work, but it is a lot of work if the discussion is long. It is also more to mark. However, it does allow for consciousness-raising of students’ own utterances. I have used student task transcription previously with my RPG course.

Produce a podcast or video, ideally for an authentic audience

This is unlikely to be a favourite task, to be honest. Additionally, if it is taken up with no enthusiasm, no authentic audience would want to listen to it, although individual work was done generally well when giving presentations about their favourite architecture.

So, these are some of my assessment proxies (or possible proxies) for interaction while synchronously using voice/video over internet. What are you doing with your quiet classes? Feel free to donate your ideas to me and my three readers!

3 Replies to “Assessment Proxies”

  1. Interesting post Marc & I imagine all Ts have this issue at some point. In Korea I used to have a Listening & Sleeping,sorry speaking, course. It was hard work at times
    Anyway, off the top of my end of term head here are some unoriginal ideas but maybe worth repeating:
    1. Role plays – ss may be more comfortable to take on a role for a change & not be themselves
    2. Make ’em say it – a couple of phrases to use in spkg task given to each student. Tick off when used. Who used the most? Artificial phaps but gets them speaking. 3. Repeat spkg task with new gp/partner. After first go ss reflect on performance & reflect again after round 2.

    1. Cheers Sarah,

      I totally understand the listening and sleeping! I’ve had two of those. I would love to have the quiet students doing role plays, but what I have to work with doesn’t yet lend itself to that without being extremely contrived. I think your second idea works really well as a practice task for when they feel like fish out of water. It’s a bit hard to take, especially when its your first year at uni and you’ve never studied online before.

      Cheers again!

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